COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — They're the ones we count on in an emergency, risking their lives fighting fires. But some firefighters say the flames aren't the real danger.
"All of the environments we go into are full of carcinogens, because what's burning is not natural product," said Heather Mazurkiewicz of the North Collier Professional Firefighters union.
She said that the toxic smoke in burning buildings has caused an alarming number of firefighters to die from cancer. But a bill in the state legislature would expand medical coverage to Florida firefighters after a cancer diagnosis.
House Bill 857 would also require employers to make disability payments to firefighters in the event of a cancer-related disability, and provide benefits to firefighters' beneficiaries if they die from cancer or cancer treatment.
Next week, Mazurkiewicz plans to join dozens of firefighters in Tallahassee to urge more lawmakers to consider the bill.
"The bill on the House side has 82 sponsors, from both sides of the aisle," she said.
But she said that Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva is blocking HB 857.
When Fox 4 reached out to Oliva for comment, he wrote:
"This is an issue best dealt with at the county level, as each department faces varying levels of danger and exposure. Counties are best equipped to tailor benefits to need within available resources."
He added that he does support tax breaks and property tax exemptions for disabled firefighters and their surviving family members.